Hilton or Marriott: Getting the most out of customer loyalty

Posted on February 10, 2023 | Author: Doug Phares

Are you a Hilton person or a Marriott person? I ask because this distinction recently came up while my wife and I were at a family event out of town, and the organizer had booked it at a DoubleTree hotel.

Upon learning this, I did what a rational, sane person does, and pulled out my phone, did a quick search, and dutifully informed my wife that there was a Marriott Courtyard up the road. To her perplexed “What’s your point?” I replied that I only stayed at Marriotts. I could get points, upgrades, special pillows—I’m a Marriott guy!

Anyone in a committed relationship will know that I spent the weekend at the DoubleTree, and it was fine—although I didn’t get an upgrade or free wifi, just saying.

But upon reflecting on it, I know that this neurosis is not unique to me, despite what my wife’s exasperation would imply. I talk to plenty of people who travel regularly, and we all have our own particular loyalties and affinities for different hotel brands.

Curiously, though, none of my contacts have that similar kind of “Google the nearest Marriott location” sort of loyalty for airline brands; we all just take the best deal that’s in front of us while paying nominal attention to the airline.

This begs the question: What are hotel chains doing that airlines aren’t, and why does it engender such affinity?

Looking at airlines, it’s possible to get small rewards—maybe an extra inch or two of overhead space, or the promise not to be squished against a bulkhead in the back of the plane by the bathrooms. But at the end of the day, the promise is thin, and there’s not a clear, consistent way to get those rewards except at the very highest levels..

Not so with the big hotel brands. Their promise is that if you get serious about them, in return you’ll get nicer pillows, a free cookie, free internet, and upgrades you can bank on. They deliver on that loyalty every single time you visit them, so you always have a compelling reason to book with them for your next stay. Not a lot of programs deliver that kind of consistent reward for loyalty, but they do and it serves them well.

If you’re running a business, in all likelihood you don’t have the opportunity to give out big rewards like free suite upgrades or first class seating. But there are probably steps you can take to attract repeat customers and establish some brand loyalty.

Side note: If you’re running something like a roofing business where you may only have one opportunity to sell to a customer ever, then this column isn’t for you, sorry, please come back next month.

But for anyone who has the potential for repeat business, large or small, what benefit does being your repeat customer get people? Your business certainly has some potential, even if it’s not in an industry you’d typically associate with loyalty rewards programs.

A great example is my local fitness center. At first I dismissed their perks program, but then I started getting simple emails showing my points and how to spend these with them. I signed up for some classes and did other things that they liked, and I got a free workout towel—not a cheap piece of terry cloth, but a high quality product that has actually made me go back and purchase other things from them.

They also reward my behaviors that are favorable to them. They’re in an urban area where parking is at a premium, so I can earn a handful of extra points if I walk or bike to their location. This isn’t making or breaking my experience with them, but the small rewards are tangible and nudge me to consider choices that are better for their business as well.

Similarly, you want any type of return business program you offer to feel like a win for both you and your customer. And if a rewards program doesn’t make sense for your business, what about referrals?

I own a transactional business in the leisure industry, and a lot of our business is from people who live in another state or country, so the opportunity for repeat business is slim. But we have rewards for referrals, which gets us great word of mouth business, and we have plenty of customers who come to us at roughly the same time every year when they’re in the area so we have an offer out to them for a special discount at that time. This nudge helps bring back customers who could easily choose a different provider.

Ask yourself what you can do to give someone that little extra reason to come back. And let me know what you figure out, because all I have is my own little laboratory to try out new offerings, and I’m always curious to hear what people are doing to retain business and engender affinity with their customers.

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